Kissing the single life goodbye at Hershey tonight with Bruce

Tonight marks my 39th Bruce Springsteen show.

I actually bought tickets to numbers 39 and 40 during the most recent onsale, then the fiancé and I decided that we couldn’t miss that much school and gave the Hershey Park tickets to my parents.

Then a bit of a family emergency struck and we realized we weren’t going to make it to the Mohegan Sun show, and my parents, knowing what Bruce has meant to me, offered us the Hershey tickets back. The fiancé now couldn’t make it on a weeknight, so it’s me and my dad making the drive tonight.

Which I think serves as a great bookend to a certain era of my life.

My journey with Bruce shows began eleven years ago in Richmond on the Rising tour. My brother had suggested that we get my dad Bruce tickets for Father’s Day the year before, but we never managed to get our acts together on that. And his birthday was in February, so the following year, I found excessively over-priced secondary market tickets (I didn’t know any better yet!) for behind the stage in Richmond. My brother couldn’t go, my mother didn’t want to on a school night, and so dad and I went alone.

I was still in school. We left after my last class of the day, driving down in my father’s car, joking that as we arrived in his BMW convertible, I looked like his midlife crisis wife or girlfriend, not his daughter. We listened to a compilation of songs I had put together based on recent setlists and I remember my father joking that we were passing “the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.” And I asked him what song he most wanted to hear that night. He named “For You,” which we knew was a long shot.

I was in one of many rough patches that year.  I had fallen out with my entire crew when my best friend of the last six years and I stopped talking. It was that relationship, not a boyfriend, that inspired Beyond the Palace a few years later. That’s the one relationship in my life that left a permanent scar. And even now, it aches to remember that loss. It was necessary to cut each other loose, but I was lost after that for a very long time.

But something in me clicked that night when the lights went down. For the first time, I felt something that fed that “hunger you can’t resist” that Bruce sings about. I know the people who haven’t felt that are shaking their heads at me, but the ones who have are nodding. And I know they’re out there because I’ve met them over the last eleven years. I’ve made some amazing friends because I discovered that there were other people who felt the same loneliness that I was engulfed in and who felt it lessened with each show. They are the rabid fans who can pick themselves out in the videos, who were there when I danced on stage in Charlottesville, who read Beyond the Palace and who wanted desperately for me to be Laura, not understanding that the reason they connected with the book wasn’t because I was Laura, but because I was Ben.

At first, it was me and my dad because it was our thing. My brother had annual ski trips with him, but the concerts were mine. My Uncle Mike joined us from time to time and started being my date to shows dad couldn’t make it to. He was the “real fan” in the family, with more than 200 shows under his belt, and I remember his friends quizzing me on lyrics and classic shows on the drive up to Shea Stadium in 2003 before deeming me worthy of the ticket my uncle shared with me. I treasure the memories of my shows with him as much as those with my dad. It created a bond between us that is unshakeable, and he is responsible for some of my favorite concert memories and a few key scenes in Beyond the Palace as well. And he claims that it’s in his will that I inherit his Bruce collection, because I’ll appreciate it more than my cousins could.

Uncle Mike in his “Born to Run” shirt, holding me as a baby

In 2008, I was in another of those impossibly rough patches. I was drowning at school, and it was just months after we lost my Uncle Jules, to whom Beyond the Palace is dedicated. He gave me a typewriter when I was eight years old and told me I should be a writer. And losing him hit the whole family with the destructive force of a hurricane. I did a double header of shows that August, going back to Richmond with some friends and then skipping the first day back at school for teachers to go to Hershey Park with my dad. And as was now our tradition, we picked the song we most wanted to hear. We had luck with “For You” at that first show, and even “Santa Ana” in 2005, which will be the song my dad and I will dance to at my wedding, as the “giants of science” line has always reminded me of him. But that night was my 20th show, dad’s 10th, and somehow we hadn’t seen “Jungleland” yet. And at the opening notes that night, I began to cry. It was one of the most cathartic moments of my life. It was the first time in a long time that I could believe things would again be okay. And my dad put his arm around me without saying a word; without needing to, because he understood.

As this most recent tour began, for the first time since March 6, 2003, I don’t feel that deep-seated need to be at as many shows as possible. Maybe I’ve grown up a bit. Maybe it’s because I finally have found that connection that Bruce has always said the characters in his songs are seeking.

Or maybe it’s just been too long since my last show and I’ll come home tonight and cry because my Mohegan Sun tickets are gone. I’ve warned the fiancé that that is a distinct possibility.

Thank you to my mother, for giving up your ticket to let me go with dad tonight. It’s my last show that I’ll attend with him while I still bear his last name. And while I’m sure there are more shows in our future, there’s something magical to me in getting to go to this show with him.

And Bruce, if you’re reading (hey, a girl can dream, right?), the song I want to hear most is “Sandy.” It’s what my parents will walk me down the aisle to next month as I begin this next chapter of my life.

Thank you everyone who has been a part of this ride, and I can’t wait to start the next stage, where I can introduce you to my new husband at shows!  And I’ll see you all further on up the road.

Bring on your Wrecking Ball–Two weeks early!

Christmas came way early Sunday night in the form of the new Springsteen album leaking more than two weeks before its release date.

Not that I really know from Christmas, being Jewish, but it sounds better than saying Hanukkah came early. And it really was more like Christmas because I got all of the songs at once, as opposed to the E Street Radio and Chinese-water-torture-Hanukkah method of playing one new song a day until the album comes out.

So a mere ten minutes after I got the first message containing the link to the album (which was AGONIZING because the little status bar SAID I only had to wait six minutes. I swear, between that and the Ticketmaster “Your wait time is 15 minutes” message, I’m going to stroke out the next time I get an inaccurate wait time for something online), I was listening to Wrecking Ball. And even though it turns out that my next door neighbor IS, in fact, alive and well (which, in his case, means angry and bitter), I cranked it. Because that’s what you do when you listen to new Bruce.

And in case you’re not tech savvy enough to have the album yet (or don’t have friends like mine who will send it to you—I won’t name names, but you know who you are, and thank you! <3), or if you’re just DYING to know my take on it because I’m the girl who literally wrote the book on being a Bruce fan, I’m going to break it down, song by song for you.

1. “We Take Care of Our Own”

Okay, you’ve already heard this one. And if you haven’t, you’ve been living under a rock, and if that’s the case, how are you reading this blog? I’m not going to go into WTCOOO though, because you either already get it or you already think it’s a “Yay America!” song for you to pump your fist to in concert while you pat yourself on the back saying, “We DO take care of our own! Go us!”

And you wonder why I’m so misanthropic. People are idiots.

2. “Easy Money”

The second song on the album is the first real clue that this isn’t your typical Bruce album. You couldn’t take this song and slap it onto any other album and make it fit. It’s a country song. And while I normally hate country music, I get where he’s going with this one. Maybe he eased me into it with the Seeger sessions and all, but I’m already finding myself singing along and dancing a little to this. Granted, I’m dancing like a drunk chick at a country show, so it’s not something you’d WANT to see. But it kind of makes me want to buy a cowboy hat and some boots.

3. “Shackled and Drawn”

Eesh. It’s a country album isn’t it? Oh crap, Bruce went country. And he’s kind of yodeling. I’m never going live this down with people who already make fun of me for being obsessed with him, am I? I don’t even think I can make the folk argument that we could with the Seeger sessions. This is country. And I like it. It’s got a good beat to it. And it’s catchy. Even with the gospel-y background singers. And the yodeling. Do you think they make stiletto cowboy boots?

4. “Jack of All Trades”

I have a feeling this is going to be the bathroom break song of the tour. (Assuming he doesn’t bring “Mary’s Place” back that is.) It’s not bad. And lyrically, it’s one of the strongest on the album because it has a seriously poignant message about the current state of the economy and what’s happening to people who are losing their ability to earn a living. The problem is that it’s just too slow. It kind of reminds me of “Devil’s Arcade” in that it SHOULD be a great song. The story of it is fabulous. But musically, it’s a slow waltz. Like I could picture it being the song for a music box that you wind up and there’s a little animatronic Bruce and Patti waltzing across a darkened stage. It feels like “Cherry Blossoms” off of the Horrible Crowes’ debut album Elsie—it just drags the party down too much. I like it, but I don’t think this is going to get much airtime on my iPod.

5. “Death to My Hometown”

Love it. It’s got that folksy-country feel to it that most of this album has, but I think that this one is going to rock live. It has a passion to it that I haven’t felt on this album since the opening track. There’s a solid beat, and I can picture Bruce making his angry guitar face when he’s declaring that they “brought death to my hometown, boys.” 

Although from 2:15 to 2:35, Bruce kind of channeled the Grateful Dead’s “Throwing Stones” and I definitely started singing “So the kids they dance, they shake their bones, while the politicians throwing stones, singing ashes, ashes all fall down,” then was like, oops, wrong song… But I like that one too, so it works.

6. “This Depression”

This one is going to get old fast. Mostly because the confession-depression rhyme is repeated WAY too much. I could see this song fitting on The Rising or Magic pretty easily. It’s not as good of a story as “Jack of All Trades,” but it doesn’t stop the album like that one does. I’ll keep listening, but I think this one is a throwaway for me so far.

7. “Wrecking Ball”

On first listen, I was super disappointed by the title track. Partially because I was at Giants Stadium the second time that he played it, which was the show that the live released version and video were recorded at. And the album version lacks the passion, the fire, the spirit, the—well, the Bruce-ness of the live version. This one sounds like someone’s grandpa telling a story. I half expected him to add a verse saying, “Sonny, when I was your age, I had to walk ten miles to school every day, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.”

But then I really thought about it. Because in its original form, this is the one song that doesn’t fit in on an album about the economic injustice of the country right now. The original was a fun rocker to close the last shows at the Meadowlands with. So why on earth would Bruce pick THAT song as the title song of the album? Then I understood the grandpa-ish feel of the new version. It makes it more neutral, less about Bruce in Giants Stadium. I think I still prefer the live version, but I get what he’s going for here. And maybe the real album version, not the leaked mp3s will sound a little thicker and a little less tinny.

8. “You’ve Got It”

Hey, I remember this song! It used to be called “All or Nothin’ At All,” was a lot faster, and was on the album Human Touch. Wasn’t it?

Bruce, I love you. But that’s NOT the album to be pulling outtakes from.

9. “Rocky Ground”

I have a feeling most Bruce fans are going to HATE this one. It actually manages to combine Bruce, gospel, and rap in one song. I’m not big on gospel or rap, but this is kind of cool. And even if you hate it, you’ve got to appreciate that Bruce can branch out instead of just producing the same album over and over again in different forms. (And for that, I like this song way better than “You’ve Got It,” which seriously does feel like a recycle.)

10. “Land of Hope and Dreams”

After a dozen years of playing this one live, it was an interesting choice to put on the new album. And in the first thirty seconds of the song, I worried. A lot. Because the gospel thing at the beginning did not work for me. But a studio LOHAD was worth the wait. It feels pure and redemptive and better than it’s felt live in years. And that last recorded solo from Clarence brought tears to my eyes.

I also kind of wondered at the lack of a song for Clarence on this album. Terry Magovern got “Terry’s Song.” Danny Federici got “The Last Carnival.” But listening to “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Bruce doesn’t need to tack on a song for Clarence. Because Clarence really WAS the biggest man you’ve ever seen. He got to play on his own goodbye song. And I think that’s the most fitting tribute to him that there could ever be.

11. “We Are Alive”

Okay, ignoring the Zippity Doo Dah riff that comes in at about 1:45 (…and at 2:45… and at 4:30…) and the weird foot stomping in the middle of the song, this one is kind of cool. Yeah, it’s more Seeger than E Street. But I like the lyrics. Even though I do picture Snow White’s animals cleaning the house while whistling this one.

So there you have it. It’s a VERY different album. And as several people who have heard it before have said, E Street it isn’t. (Wow, I just turned into Yoda there… sorry.) But even though it’s not Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town, I think new Bruce music is like sex. Even if it’s bad, it’s still new Bruce music, which is better than no new Bruce music. And this is far from bad—it’s just trying something new that will take a little getting used to.

Just don’t judge me if you see me at shows next month rocking a cowboy hat and boots. A few more listens and you may be doing the same!

Attention Bruce fans: it’s time to rebel! Occupy Ticketmaster!

Like most other rabid Springsteen fans, I spent a large portion of my weekend dealing with the utter failure of a system that is Ticketmaster.

I won some.  I lost some.  I got the 15-minute wait time message that lasted close to two hours.  I ripped out huge chunks of hair in frustration.  I cried.  I smashed things.  I roared my terrible roar and gnashed my terrible teeth.  And, in the end, I wound up with the tickets that I was looking for.

Others weren’t so lucky.

Ticketmaster claimed on Friday that the problems were caused by scalpers, who launched a massive cyber attack on the site.

Which I might be more likely to believe was really the issue if Ticketmaster didn’t own TicketsNow, one of the biggest resale sites out there.

And if seats for the shows hadn’t been on TicketsNow BEFORE the on-sale date.


Sounds fishy to me too.

Clearly, something needs to be done.

And of course, as the future ruler of the world, I have the solution.

First, Ticketmaster needs to be deposed. That much is obvious and uncontested. I think that anyone who tried to buy a ticket from them over the last few days is in absolute agreement that this needs to happen.

The question is how.

Unfortunately, cyber attacks don’t seem to be the answer. If Ticketmaster is telling the truth, then all cyber attacks accomplish is making the fans angrier. It didn’t actually bring about any kind of a change, it just dicked everyone over.

So if we want to actually overthrow Ticketmaster, like with any evil dictator, we need to do it old-school. I mean, we can use social media to organize the protest, like Egypt did, but in the end, it’s going to need to be a storming-the-Bastille type revolution.

Their corporate offices are in LA, so I recommend we do it when we’re out there for the LA Bruce show in April. You know, the whole kill two birds with one stone type of deal.

But what happens when Ticketmaster is gone?

Lots of people have been suggesting better ways to deal with ticketing. I’ve heard rumblings on the message boards of people blaming Bruce’s camp for this snafu, as well as suggesting that there be a fan club to help the “real fans” get tickets first. And I mean, that’s not the world’s worst answer. But it’s not the best answer either.

The problem is that when Ticketmaster has been destroyed, odds are, much of the rest of society will fall apart as well. There will be complete and utter anarchy as people scramble to get their tickets without the totalitarian despotic regime of Ticketmaster dictating how our tickets need to be obtained. And unless we put another system in place, there will be riots, natural disasters and biblical style plagues as people try to get their tickets.

And that’s just what I’m gong to inflict on the people who keep me from getting MY tickets.

Luckily, I have the answer.

We need a Hunger Games-style, to-the-death, battle royale to determine who gets which tickets.

No really. It’s the perfect solution.

Think about it. The scalpers won’t bother, because they’re completely soulless and just trying to profit off the misery of others. They’re not going to risk their OWN lives to get tickets to see Bruce.

But the rest of us? Oh hell yeah. It’s on.

AND it fixes a lot of other things that everyone has been whining about on recent Bruce tours. Think about it. How many times have you NOT been in the front of the pit because little kids were up there? How many times have you sat through Bruce pulling them up to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day”?

They won’t survive the ticketing process, so that problem is solved. AND their annoying parents will be so busy trying to protect the little ones that it’ll be really easy to take them out too.

And how many times have you been surrounded by drunken idiots yelling out requests for songs that no one wants to hear? Like the idiots who brought signs requesting “Mary’s Place.” I mean, REALLY? You REALLY want to hear “Mary’s Place” again? I only went to four shows on the Rising tour and STILL spent more time listening to that song than it would take to watch Gone With the Wind. Twice.

Luckily, with my system, the drunken idiots would no longer be at the shows, because they’d be the first ones to go down after the kids in the battle royale. It’s REALLY easy to knock a drunk down. Just put on a strobe light. They fall down on their own. (That actually works. And it’s REALLY fun to do if you’re sober at a party. Yes, I’m a horrible person. Deal with it.)

Of course, some people might argue that a better system might be to just sell tickets the day of the show at the door. You show up, pay, go in, done. No more scalpers. But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the competitive edge? Where’s the sheer joy of beating the crap out of the people who want to get your tickets?

No, my solution is clearly the answer.

Or, I suppose the government could step in and actually enforce some of those antitrust laws, which, as I understand it, were written to prevent corporations like Ticketmaster from holding a complete monopoly and causing problems like those that happened this weekend.

That might work too.

Springsteen tickets go on sale today: Game on.

I’m not exactly an athlete, but today is opening day of the one sport that I’m a pro at.


Springsteen tickets go on sale today.

Game on.

To the non-competitive fans out there, I know it doesn’t sound like much of an athletic activity, but trust me, it requires months of preparation, mental agility, cat-like reflexes, and the patience of a Buddhist monk.

If you’re smart like I am, you’re in constant training. There’s no off-season when you’re serious about getting Bruce tickets.

The preparation starts with location and a credit card. For any given tour, there are certain cities that are likely to get concerts. It’s important to anticipate which of these are within a reasonable driving distance (a twelve-hour radius is acceptable on your own, more if you have a second driver going with you), and to make sure that you’ve bought enough stuff with your credit card to rack up the mileage points to enable you to travel to the shows outside of that reasonable radius. I recommend charging all concert tickets on mileage credit cards, because then your tickets work toward your travel goals as well. This stage of the training process can take years, but if you’re an chronic shopper like I am, you can make training fun.

Next, you need to take up yoga. This is the part that’s hard for me. I’m not a patient person. If I’m going to work out, I want to run and lift heavy things. (Yes, like running toward sales and carrying shopping bags loaded with shoes. Shut up. I work out for real. Jerks.)

You see, to deal with Ticketmaster, you need yoga. Because Ticketmaster is the single most evil corporation in the history of the world. It’s a little-known fact that it has been around for hundreds of years, since LONG before you were able to buy tickets online, or by phone, or even in a kiosk (which was before my ticket-buying time). I actually have a theory that Ticketmaster was single-handedly responsible for the Kennedy assassination, the Holocaust, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (which started World War I), the Indonesian tsunami, George W. Bush, and the Microsoft corporation.

Seriously. The root of all modern evil.

And it’s apparently an unbreakable monopoly since the Live Nation merger, so there’s no way around dealing with them.

But you need yoga because it’s imperative that you are able to keep calm when dealing with Ticketmaster, even when you get the dreaded error message that tells you that there’s a problem processing your order when you pulled the exact seats that you wanted (GA, in my case—if it’s not the pit, it’s not perfect!), and you get thrown back into the queue, then told there are no tickets available.

Normally, when this happens, I turn into the Incredible Hulk. Literally. I turn green, sprout massive muscles, and run around smashing everything in my path yelling, “SARA MAD!” But with yoga’s meditation techniques, I’ve been able to control my anger to the point where I only turn slightly green, grow muscles that don’t destroy my clothes, and am able to grit my teeth, tell Ticketmaster to go do something that isn’t anatomically possible for it to do to itself, and keep hitting refresh, hoping that that tickets that an error message screwed someone else out of will pop back up for me to buy.

Trust me, without yoga, the cost of repairing the swath of destruction wreaked by Ticketmaster rage far exceeded the exorbitant Ticketmaster fees. And that’s saying something.

You also need to be prepared to type in the randomly generated “codes” that Ticketmaster provides to ensure that you’re human. And which are also the primary source of amusement for Ticketmaster employees other than causing system errors after giving you great tickets. One time the randomly-generated code said, “Nice try, loser,” right before saying there were no tickets available. Another time it said “No Bruce for you.” And another one said “ham sandwich.” (Okay, that one MIGHT have been random. Or it could have been a subtle jab at me because I’m Jewish and onto Ticketmaster about orchestrating the Holocaust.) But the more practice you have at reading and rapidly typing in those infuriating codes, the better your ticket chances are.

In order to get tickets to multiple shows (and let’s face it, I’m going to be at multiple shows on this tour), you sometimes need to perfect the art of being in multiple places at once. Tickets for both Philadelphia shows go on sale at the same time tomorrow (from ComcastTix, which is like Ticketmaster but with a less reliable website. Fail.). If you buy for one show, the second one will be sold out by the time you finish your purchase. I recommend cloning yourself and training your clone to buy tickets. However, I’m on a teacher’s salary and since it apparently costs $50,000 to clone a dog (and since cloning people isn’t legal… yet… muahahaha), that option is out for me. So if you can’t afford a clone, or have issues with playing God, you need a partner. I, for example, will be forced to rely on a less trained helper (my dad) to get tickets for the other Philly night. Pray for me. (Just kidding, daddy! I have faith in your abilities! But please try hard!)

And it’s wise to remember that buying tickets is a marathon, not a sprint. Because I’m not JUST planning to go to shows in New Jersey, which go on sale today. Oh no. I’m getting up early on a Saturday to buy my tickets for the DC and Philly shows tomorrow.

But even once I get my tickets, it’s not time to rest yet. It’s just time to start training to buy my tickets for the second US leg of the tour, which hasn’t even been announced yet.

And time to start training for pit survival–If you don’t condition your legs and bladder, that’s an uncomfortable experience. Worth every second of it, but uncomfortable all the same.

Good luck fellow tramps!

Let the ticket-buying begin!

It’s only rock and roll… but I love everything about it!

You know how the mystical entity known as they “they” always say that as soon as you stop looking for something, you find it?

Well, it finally happened for me.

Yes, boys and girls, that most amazing, magical thing that could possibly happen to a person happened to me on Friday night.

No, I’m not talking about love. I’m single and probably will be for life unless they eventually make it legal for a crazy cat lady to marry her seventeen cats. Which in some states, might actually happen before gay marriage, but that’s a topic for another blog and another day. (For the record I have no cats. I hate cats. Which is why it’s truly horrible that my destiny is to become a crazy cat lady. Pray for me.)

So what happened to me on Friday?

Only the best and most wonderful thing that can happen in my world!

I went to New Jersey to see the Gaslight Anthem. And I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t expecting it, hell, I wasn’t even THINKING about it. But it happened.

Bruce Springsteen popped up on stage at a show that I was at in Asbury Park.

And I was front and center.

Okay, slightly off to the right of center. But close enough.

Several very reliably sources told me that he was there that night before he came out on stage.  But I was relying on Bruce’s own dictum to “Trust none of what you hear, and less of what you see,” because I had been burned by rumors before.

Of course, I probably should have been able to guess that Bruce would be there, because Friday was just one of those incredible, too-good-to-be-true, perfect days when the stars all align and everything works out exactly as it should.

There were no hiccups on the way to Asbury Park at all. The ICC is finally open in Maryland, shaving half an hour off the time it takes to get there. And even Delaware cooperated! Worst-state-in-the-union Delaware got its act together in time for my trip to Asbury Park. Somehow, in what can only be described as a Festivus miracle, the road work that has been going on since the dawn of time in Delaware seems to be FINISHED.

And even more miraculous, the toll plaza of doom that always caused traffic to slow to the point where you actually start moving backwards has been replaced with a high-speed EZ Pass. Granted, I’m sure when I eventually get to hell (and trust me, that’s where I’m going when I die), the gates of hell will look nothing like Rodin imagined and will instead be the exact toll plaza that used to ruin all road trips through Delaware, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Seriously, after Friday, I’m thinking about letting Delaware remain a state when I take over the world. The state clearly read my earlier blog about my plan to revoke its statehood and is making the changes necessary to ensure its survival. And I respect that effort.

And thanks to those changes in Delaware, we made it to Asbury Park in record time, even with a Superman-style stop along the way for Lynnlee and me to change out of our road-trip yoga pants and t-shirts into the glamorous rock and roll goddesses you see at a show. Seriously, we walk into the rest stop as Clark Kent and we emerge as Megan Fox. It’s amazing what a little glitter eyeliner, mascara, and cleavage can do.

Which is also probably how we managed to make it to the very front of the pit, despite not being the first people in line, but I don’t question these things. When the stars align, you let it happen. (Ana, that was for you!)

Of course, even in my rock goddess mode, I feel a little out of place at a Gaslight Anthem show. Mostly because I’m neither fifteen years old, nor do I have approximately 863 tattoos. Seriously. The band might sing about “your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos,” in “Old White Lincoln,” but they seem to have left out any mention of the skulls, mermaids, song lyrics, and the one really freaky tattoo that I saw on some girl’s chest that looked EXACTLY like my dead grandma.  Seriously.  It scared me.

And with how tightly packed that pit was, I’m really glad tattoos aren’t contagious because I’m pretty sure I would have caught a whole lot of them from the people around me. Piercings too. Like I didn’t know you COULD pierce your eyelid or chin dimple or pinky finger. But I learned Friday night that apparently there is nothing attached to your body that can’t be tattooed and/or pierced.

I’m also pretty sure that I now have internal bleeding from the moshers. I’ve never understood the appeal of moshing. Like I’m happy to dance at a show. And I understand the appeal of wanting to be as close to the action on stage as possible. But I’ve never felt the need to hurl my entire body at the people around me as hard as is humanly possible for the sake of showing my enjoyment at a concert.

I guess I’m just weird.

Especially considering that the old Asian couple behind us were seriously getting into it. They were there with their teenage daughter, and I felt sorry for her because I was positive that when the moshing started, they were going to yank that girl out of there faster than you could pierce an eyelid. But Asian dad was moshing like a pro. Like he actually was. And I think I even saw Asian mom crowd surfing at one point.

But I forgot all about the moshers and crowd surfers and the chick who was busy trying to tattoo the Gaslight Anthem logo onto the back of my shoulder when Brian Fallon told us that he had a Christmas gift for us. And somehow, collectively, the entire audience’s Bruce-dar went off.

I think Lynnlee still has nail marks in her arm from how hard I grabbed her.

It was only one song. And it honestly had nothing to do with why I was there that night, because the Gaslight Anthem is unequivocally my favorite band in the world after Bruce. But it was one of those moments that absolutely shifted my outlook on everything.

Clarence is still gone and none of us mere fans have any real idea of how Bruce is going to handle that for this next tour. Hell, we don’t even have a hint of what the next album is going to be called or any confirmed US tour dates. Just a promise that they’re coming.

But whatever happens, I’m ready.

Because when Bruce shows up to play in Asbury, all is right in my world.

And so, with a hoarse voice, massive internal moshing injuries, and a half-finished tattoo that looks like the one Steve-O got while off-roading, I return to my normal, non-rock goddess life, to await the new year of albums and concerts and touring, oh my!

But after Friday night, I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring.

In the words of the Gaslight Anthem, “Bring it On”…

August 11, 2003–my third Bruce show

I know, I know, I’ve been slacking big time on the blog front!  (Not really, it’s been a conscious break because I’m hard at work on the next novel and trying to make a major dent in it before I go back to work in a week and a half…waaaaahhhhh!)

But it’s August 11.  And eight years ago today was a spectacular day, so it deserves to be discussed.

Bruce fans already know exactly what I’m talking about.  And the rest of you are now like, aw crap, it’s a Springsteen post.  But you’re already reading, so you might as well keep going.

Long story short, I was about to start my first year of teaching and had all of the new teacher orientation stuff on August 11.  But my uncle Mike (the BIG Springsteen fan in my family–although to be fair, he got a HUGE head start on me considering that I wasn’t even born yet when he started going to shows), had offered me two tickets to the final night in Philly on the Rising tour, and I was bringing my dad as my date for his father’s day present.

My uncle wearing a “Born to Run” shirt, holding me as a baby (with my grandma)

 I told everyone at the new teacher orientation that I had a “doctor’s appointment” that I couldn’t get out of (hey Uncle Mike is a doctor, it works… kinda…) and bailed early, went to my parents’ house, and my dad and I left for Philly.

It was only my third Bruce show ever at that point, and now that I’m thirty shows in, I can still say that it was one of the very best I’ve seen, if not THE best.  And it was just such a special night overall.  I was there with three of my favorite men (my dad, Uncle Mike, and Bruce), for an incredible show, but I think my favorite part of it was how happy my dad and uncle were to see how excited I was to experience that show.  I remember having no idea what he was playing when he opened with “From Small Things,” singing along with them to Incident and the look of sheer glee on my uncle’s face when Bruce went into Pretty Flamingo (which I had never even heard of at the time), and the excitement of the band trying to figure out how to play “I’m Goin’ Down” after so many years for the guys with “those fabulous homemade signs.”

Because it was such a special night, when I was writing my first novel, Beyond the Palace, I knew I had to put that show in there and it became a really pivotal chapter in the book.  Which was only fitting because it was the sense of magic and community that I felt at the August 11, 2003 show and the last show on the Rising tour at Shea stadium that really got me thinking about writing the book in the first place.

So here is the excerpt from Beyond the Palace that takes place eight years ago today.  If you were there, I hope this helps you recapture how great it was.  And if you weren’t, well, learn from that mistake and never, EVER miss a Philadelphia Bruce show.

(Just be aware that it’s a middle chapter, so if you haven’t read the whole book, you may not get some of the references.  And I cut the end off the chapter so as not to spoil anything!)


Even now, after everything that’s happened, if you asked me to make a list of the best days ever in my whole life, I would put August 11, 2003 at the top.  It was one of those perfect days, in which nothing can go wrong.  Maybe it wasn’t as good at the time as it seems looking back on it now, but in the end, it’s the memory, not the reality that stays with you.  And my memory of that day is that it was exquisite. 
Of course, you don’t know that you’re going to have one of those days when you wake up.  I woke up pretty miserable.  It was a Monday morning, which is never good for anyone, and it was the night of the third show in Philadelphia.  But I woke up in my apartment, not in Philly.
Laura and I had gone to the Friday and Saturday night shows, but I reluctantly told her that I couldn’t afford to miss another day of work to stay over for Monday’s show.  I had an important staff meeting Monday afternoon and it just wasn’t going to work.  I told her to go without me, praying she would say that no, it wouldn’t be the same without me.  Eventually, she relented and, realizing that I was serious about not being able to go, she said we could watch the setlist at my apartment to try to recapture some of the excitement of the show we were missing.  It was a poor substitute, but it was better than sitting at home alone, drinking beer and watching TV.
So, despondent at the prospect of a new week at work and having to miss a show that was within driving distance, I trudged off to the office. 
And I’ve never spent a longer day there.  Every second that ticked by felt like an hour.  And even though I was busy, this little voice in the back of my head kept nagging me that maybe I really could have taken the day off and gone to the show.  I can’t explain it.  I had been to more than forty already in less than a year, but with each subsequent concert, I felt like I had to be at the next one or else I would be missing the experience of my lifetime.
But at 1:53, just as I had finished the PowerPoint presentation for that afternoon’s meeting, I heard the most beautiful sound drifting in from the outer office.  It was Laura laughing.  It couldn’t be, and I knew it wasn’t really her, but I went to my office door to look anyway.  And there she was. 
She was sitting on the low wall that separated the reception area from the offices, impossibly cool in denim capris and a black tank top, with the requisite summer day sunglasses perched on her head.  Not remotely appropriate office attire.  But Laura could blend in at a black tie affair in sweats.  It was always all about attitude with her.
Two of the senior partners from my office were standing near her, Bill leaning against the wall, Scott opposite her, and she was laughing at something one of them had said.  Coral, our nosier-than-nosy receptionist was still at her seat, but was peering around her computer in a way that said she had clearly given up on even trying to pretend that she wasn’t listening to every word that was being said.  Phil and Grace, two of my coworkers, had left their offices and were standing in the space between their two doorways observing the conversation as well.  You would have thought that we had never had a client here before.  But then again, Laura didn’t fit the mold of our usual clientele.  Nor had I ever seen anyone sit on that wall.  Or both Bill and Scott come out to talk to anyone who wasn’t wearing a suit.
“There he is!” Laura cried with delight when she saw me and she hopped off the wall, with a hand on Bill’s shoulder to steady her descent.  She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me lightly on the lips in greeting.  I was too surprised to move.  It was just a peck.  But it was on the lips.  I had no idea what was going on.  Then she turned back to Bill and Scott, who were smiling indulgently.  “You’re sure it’s alright?” she asked, looking a little worried.  I was floored.  Laura never asked permission for anything.  Ever.
Bill nodded but Scott spoke.  “Of course, sweetheart, go and enjoy.” 
I turned to Laura.  “Go where?”  She smiled and pulled two tickets out of her back pocket.
I was amazed.  We had sold our tickets on Saturday night when we decided we weren’t going to the Monday show.  And somehow she had gotten two more GAs.  And not only that, she had gotten my bosses to tell me to leave work early to go.
“How—?” I started, but she cut me off.
“Ticket drop.  Now come on, we’re going to have to speed to get there in time to get in line for the lottery!”  She had to be lying.  If she had gotten the tickets through a drop on Ticketmaster, she would have had to pick up the tickets at will-call at the venue.  That was how tickets worked on the day of the show.  There wasn’t any way to get tickets the same day except at the venue, which meant that she had clearly gotten them somewhere else.  But I didn’t ask her.  Accusing her of lying would have seemed fishy to my bosses.  And she wouldn’t have answered me anyway. 
I looked questioningly at Bill and Scott.  “I’ll do your presentation if the PowerPoint is done,” Bill said.  I told him it was, and he told us to leave so we could make it in time.
I emailed the presentation to Bill and got my keys and briefcase.  Laura took my hand as we started to leave, but Bill stopped us as we walked out.  “That’s some girl, you’ve got there.”  Laura beamed up at him and he smiled back.  “You kids have a good time tonight!”  And somehow, it didn’t even sound patronizing when he said that.  I normally would have been pissed to be called a kid at the office, where I tried as hard as I could to act like a professional.  But he sounded like he could have been her dad telling us to have fun on a date.
In the elevator, I asked how she had done it. 
“Easy,” she said, pulling her hair up into a ponytail.  “I just asked to speak to the partners and I told them that I was your girlfriend and it’s our six month anniversary today and I’d gotten tickets to tonight’s show as a present for you.  They actually seemed thrilled to get rid of you,” she said, with that wicked smile I loved.
I couldn’t help it; I pulled her to me and hugged her.  I half-expected her to squirm out of it.  But she didn’t.
Because I took the Metro to work most mornings, we didn’t have to deal with having two cars, and it was such a beautiful day that there was no question about whose car we would have taken anyway.  It was a convertible day if I had ever seen one.   But crossing the garage to her car, I realized we would have a timing problem anyway.
I checked my watch.  It was 2:14.  We really needed to be in the parking lot by 4:30 to have a shot to be in the pit, because of the lottery system, which had replaced the fan-run list the earlier shows on the tour, and it would take us two-and-a-half hours to get there from my office in DC.  Maybe, if we drove like demons right now we would have the smallest chance of making it in time.  But even that was unlikely.  And I was dressed for work.
“Shit,” I said finally.
“What’s wrong?”
“We’re not going to make it in time.”
“Sure we will.  As long as we hurry.”
“I’ve got to change; I can’t go like this and I don’t have clothes with me.”
Laura smiled.  “It’s a good thing I’m a genius,” she said, batting her eyelashes at me.  She pushed the button on her keys to open the trunk and she pulled out a small pink Adidas duffel bag, which she tossed at me.
“What’s this?” I asked, opening it.  In the bag were my shorts, which she had mentioned the week before that she had grabbed by accident when we stayed in Jersey after one of the Giants Stadium shows; my favorite Rolling Stones t-shirt, which she had stolen months ago to sleep in; and the old sneakers that I had forgotten in her trunk, when we changed to dry shoes after one of the rain shows.  For the second time in fifteen minutes, I didn’t know what to say.
“I washed the shorts,” she said.  “They smelled like smoke.”
“You?” I asked with a smile.  “You did laundry?”
“What’s wrong with that?” she asked.  “I’m quite domestic.”  Then she started laughing.  “Whatever, okay, fine, I’m not domestic at all.  But I do know how to do laundry!” 
I didn’t thank her.  It’s one of those tricks I had learned in the past nine months.   She could be ridiculously sweet and thoughtful.  That was, in fact, the real Laura.  But she hated being called on it.  And thanking her made her realize that she wasn’t keeping up the act.  She would pull back when I did that, which was, of course, a setback in whatever our odd relationship was.  And as odd as it sounds, I liked the duality of her.  It kept me on my toes.  It had taken me a long time to decide which parts of her were real and which weren’t, and I still screwed it up frequently.  But not that day.
I changed in the car while Laura drove, and a bootleg from the third Giants Stadium show saw us the whole way there.  We had made the same drive on Friday night, but this was better because it was so completely unexpected.  Better because it was such a beautiful day.  Better because we were playing hooky from work.  It felt like we were kids skipping school.  Laura, in fact, pointed out that that was exactly what we were doing when we got to the line about it in “Rosalita.”
When I think about Laura, I think about her that day.  It’s how I want to remember her.  Never the fighting that would come later, or the loss, or the pain.  Not even kissing her or waking up next to her.  But only as she was on that one perfect day.  She was so completely alive.  The sun hitting her shoulders and the gold in her hair, bleached there by her refusal to put the top of her car up when it wasn’t raining that summer.  And maybe a little un-discussed help from her hair stylist.  I want to remember her laughing and singing, loudly and badly with the music.  Throwing her fist into the air during “Badlands” and “Born to Run,” and insisting that I do the same, which prompted odd looks from the other drivers around us, which turned into knowing smiles from other drivers as we got closer to the venue.  Maybe she really was that beautiful that day.  Maybe I just thought she was because I loved her.  Maybe I just think she was now, looking back.  But it doesn’t matter, because it’s how I remember her. 
The clouds started threatening us once we crossed into Delaware.  They had been chasing us since Baltimore.  But around Wilmington, the first drops of rain started to fall.
“Should we pull over and put the top up?” I asked, finally, as Laura eventually turned on the windshield wipers.  A look of concentration crossed her face as she studied the horizon.
“No,” she said.  “If we keep moving at this speed, we won’t get wet,” which was true, as the wind resistance keeps rain from falling into the car until you stop.  “And I think we can get past the clouds first.”  I smiled.  She looked over and smiled back at me and the speedometer crept past 80 miles per hour.  And as always, she was right. 
We beat the clouds around the Pennsylvania state line.  Of course, they would catch up to us later, but there was a certain thrill even in just outrunning the rain.  Nothing could stop us.  And we not only beat the rain, but we made it in plenty of time for the pit line.  And our luck held with the ticket lottery because we wound up in the front, right near Little Steven and Patti.  Laura’s favorite side if we couldn’t be dead center.  We stuck with Jeff and Ellen as we walked in and wound up next to them in the pit.
We had all huddled for shelter in the parking lot when the rain started, but it had stopped by the time we were filing into the stadium.  No real tailgating on pit nights, because you could get out of the pit if you had to go to the bathroom, especially during “Mary’s Place,” when Bruce extended the song to twenty minutes and did the band introductions; but if you gave up a spot at the front, you were never getting it back.  We had entered, what Laura called, “Camel Mode” before we even got to Pennsylvania.  We would take bottles of water into the pit, because we would need them desperately by the end of the night, but no drinking until we started sweating.  Laura’s rules.  We even figured out a system for the water bottles, because at Giants Stadium, and a few other venues, they only let you bring water bottles in with you if you didn’t bring the top, and they took the tops off the bottles they sold there as well.  Laura kept extra caps in her purse, which we would put on our open bottles as soon as we were inside. 
But unlike Friday and Saturday nights, which were swelteringly hot, the rain had cooled the temperature down to a comfortable seventy-four degrees, according to the new Eagles stadium’s scoreboard, by the time the show started.  The sun was still out when Bruce followed the band to the stage.
Laura grabbed my hand and squeezed it as Bruce came out and said into my ear, “Here we go.”  I loved the excitement level.  We had done this a million times.  But every time was as exciting as the first.  For me as well.  I cheered and yelled “Bruuuuuuuce” with the rest of them like my life depended on it.  And I waited for the opening notes of whichever song Bruce would play to start the show.  While it was sometimes predictable, such as “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” when it was raining, waiting to recognize the first notes of that first song was intense and exhilarating.  And Laura and I played a game of seeing who recognized the song he opened with first.     
But that night, that recognition didn’t come.  I had never heard the song that Bruce opened with.  And based on the look of mixed confusion and elation on Laura’s face, she had never heard it before either.  She turned to me finally.  She wasn’t going to ask what it was, so I asked her.  But she didn’t know.
I turned to my right and saw that Jeff has his arms around Ellen and they were singing along.  How on earth was there a song that even Laura didn’t know?  I caught Jeff’s eye.  I wouldn’t have asked him what it was during the song, as that would be a breach of concert etiquette.  But he volunteered the answer anyway.  “’From Small Things,’” he shouted.  River outtakes.  Dave Edmunds covered it.”  I yelled back my thanks and turned to tell Laura what I had learned.
“Has he ever played it before?” she asked.  I relayed her question to Jeff, but Ellen answered.
“Just in clubs a couple of times.  Never on tour.”
A huge grin spread across Laura’s face.  “History in the making,” she said and turned her full attention back to Bruce.
He jumped from “Lonesome Day” into “Night,” a moderately rare song off Born to Run, which I loved.  It was about how you force yourself to survive your days in a job that you don’t like because your real life starts at night.  It reminded me of the life I had with Laura, even though it wasn’t one of her favorite songs. 
Next came another new one to us.  “Be True,” which he hadn’t played in the US on this tour yet.  If you’ve never been to a Bruce show, I’m not sure I can really explain what came over us at the beginning of that song.  We danced, we sang along, we threw ourselves into it like he was playing it just for us.  Yes, we knew he was playing it because he wanted to and he was playing it for Philadelphia, just like he played “Atlantic City” next because it mentions Philly.  But when you’re there at one of his shows, no matter how many other people are around you, be it a thousand or a hundred thousand, he’s playing for you.  And when you’re in the front of the pit, he’s less than ten feet from you, playing a song he almost never plays, just for you.  So when he tells you to show some faith because “there’s magic in the night,” you know what he means because it’s true.  You’re seeing that magic right then.
As if to prove my point, after some of the requisite songs from The Rising, Bruce heard people yelling for “Thunder Road” and he played it, even though he had already played it there Friday night.  And we screamed as he pulled out his harmonica and we sang the song right back to him, just like every audience has since 1975 when he started telling us to.
The band retreated off stage as the main set ended.  We weren’t worried; they were coming right back.  The norm was two encores, and for the last show in Philly, there was no doubt that those encores would be incredible.  I wrapped my arm around Laura’s waist during this and pulled her closer to me.  She was damp with sweat and I was too.  It may have been a cool night, but the pit is always hot.  “If you could hear anything in the world next, what would it be?” I asked into her ear.  She leaned into me and closed her eyes, deep in thought.  Then she twisted her neck up to say it into my ear.
He had played it a handful of times, but never at a show we had been at.  But when Bruce and the band came back to the stage, Bruce asked for requests, which I had been pretty sure he would do after seeing him listen to the requests for “Thunder Road.”  I yelled “Incident” as loud as I could.  He heard someone else first, but didn’t catch what they had said and joked with them, asking for “something we know.”  Jeff had heard me and he and Ellen joined in requesting the same song, as did several other people who had heard me and agreed.
And Bruce nodded, then told Roy, the piano player, to start.  At the opening notes, Laura tore her eyes away from Bruce and turned to me.  She didn’t say thank you, but then again she never did.  And she didn’t have to.  It was in her eyes.  She turned back to the stage, but she took my arms and pulled them tighter around her waist.  I glanced to my right, at Jeff and Ellen, who had seen that.  Ellen smiled at me and I grinned broadly back. 
I could have held her like that forever.  The smell of her perfume coming off her hair, Bruce a few feet in front of us, one of the most beautiful love songs ever written being sung for us, at our request.  Remember in Field of Dreams, when the kid asks if he’s in heaven and Kevin Costner says, “No, it’s Iowa”?  It was like that.  We were at the Linc!  I hate the Eagles and I was standing on their field.  But heaven is where you find it.  And we had found it.
We broke apart to dance when Bruce played “I’m Goin’ Down” for the guys holding up request signs about twenty feet behind us.  We had seen the signs earlier in the night, and Jeff had warned us before the show started that he would be shocked if Bruce played that, even in Philadelphia, because he hadn’t played it since the Born in the USA tour.  And when he started it, Bruce confirmed Jeff’s position as more of an expert than Laura, by saying that the band hadn’t played the song since 1986.  Jeff laughed and shook his head.  The E Street band wasn’t on tour in 1986, and Jeff knew that.  We laughed when he said that he didn’t even know which guitar to play it on.  And we danced and sang along. And cheered Little Steven on, even though he clearly got a little lost in the middle.  And our faith was rewarded, because Steve kissed his guitar pick and tossed it to Laura when the song ended.  She blew him a kiss and he blew one back at her.
“Think he recognizes us yet?” Laura asked.  I told her he had to, as she pocketed the pick. 
It was the most incredible show we had been to on the tour. 
But instead of going straight into “Rosalita” after “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Bruce started something else.  We heard Ellen and Jeff screaming, and Ellen jumped up and down like Laura, a girl half her age, had at “Be True.”  Jeff saw us watching and smiled.  “He used to play this as an intro to ‘Rosie’ in the seventies,” he explained as he held Ellen and swayed with her.  “Hasn’t played it since the Darkness tour.”
Laura smiled and closed her eyes.  She leaned back into me and I put my arm around her waist again.  We had heard versions of Bruce covering Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo” on bootlegs, but never live, as he hadn’t played it since the year after we were born.  Then again, my parents had gone to a couple of shows when my mother was pregnant with me.  Maybe I had heard it before after all.
As the last note hung on the air and the first note to “Rosalita” clung to it, opening the song, Laura turned and kissed me. 
In real time, I know that it must have been less than thirty seconds, because the kiss had ended by the time Bruce started singing.  But if I didn’t have the bootleg of the show to prove that it was that short of a time, I would believe it could have been forever. 
I had never decided that I loved someone before having kissed them before.  Well, okay, excluding my fourth grade teacher.  But you know what I mean.  To be honest, before it happened, I couldn’t really imagine how it could.  We had come so far past the point where I could have plausibly made a move that I figured that if it was ever going to happen, it would be because we were ridiculously drunk.  Although nothing had happened yet while ridiculously drunk.  And even if it did, we would have probably ignored it the next day.  Because she didn’t feel the way I did.  I’m not stupid.  Once you’re in the friend zone, it’s up to the girl to make a move if she wants something to happen.  Very few guys have girl friends who they wouldn’t sleep with if the occasion arose.  So if a girl, who really is a friend, wants more from a relationship, she’s the one to take it there.  And if she doesn’t want to, she keeps you at arms length for the sake of the friendship.  And while Laura could be affectionate, she was like a cat.  It was when she wanted it, and only when she wanted it.  If I tried to pet her when she wasn’t in the mood, there was no chance of it happening.  While I had spent months aching to make a move, I never found the right time when she would have allowed it.  And I knew her well enough to know that if I did it too soon, I would lose her altogether.  And that wasn’t a risk that was worth taking.  Even if we could never be more than friends, having her in my life at all made my life better.  And I would have done anything that it took to keep her in my life.
But she kissed me.
I think.
I know I didn’t start it consciously.  So it must have been her. 
But that didn’t matter.
Girls make a bigger deal about kissing than guys do.  There’s that awful Cher song about how you can tell everything you need to know from a kiss.  I don’t believe that’s true.  But for the first time ever really, I started to believe that there was a chance for us.  Somewhere in her, she wanted to be with me too.  And that night, I believed I could wait forever if that was what it took.
By the time Bruce started singing, she had turned back to the stage.  She was watching Bruce and dancing to the music, but Little Steven had seen the kiss and winked at me.  It’s stupid, I know, but I treasured that wink as Laura would treasure the guitar pick he had thrown her and the kiss he had blown to her.  Bruce’s guitar player and right—er, left-hand man as it were, approved of my choice of girl.  And I didn’t question what would happen next, because I knew it wouldn’t be anything else that night.  And that night, it didn’t need to be.  It was perfect as it was.
We weren’t planning to stay over in Philadelphia, and I had to be at work the next morning, although Laura’s appearance at my office would mean if I came in late, no one would question it.  But we didn’t rush to leave the sports complex’s parking lot.  It had been cool right after the rain, but the night had turned warm and muggy.  The air was so thick and heavy that the sweat we had worked up refused to evaporate, and Laura’s hair along the hairline was damp.  We walked slowly off the field and out into the parking lot, unwilling to let the night end.
Most of the crowd seemed to be doing the same thing.  We had parked deep in the lot, which meant that we weren’t getting our car out for a good half hour anyway, so we walked down the steps of the Linc with Jeff and Ellen, discussing the show.
Laura was glowing.  She kept dancing a few feet in front of us and spinning around and coming back to me.  Every few seconds, she would recount another favorite moment of the show.  “And I can’t believe he played ‘I’m Goin’ Down!’” she would yell suddenly.  Or just “‘Incident!’  He played ‘Incident!’  Full band and everything!”  She started singing “Be True” as we walked toward the parking lot.  Jeff and Ellen were as amused by her as I was.  This was one of my favorite times with Laura, after a great show, when she was happy.  After some shows, she became quiet or sullen, because she knew there wouldn’t be another one for a little while.  But when she was like this, there was no one in the world like her.
We reached her car and Laura hit the remote button to put the top down before we got there, but tossed me the keys.  She never asked me if I wanted to drive home, or if I was tired, or if I minded driving her car (although no one in their right mind would turn down the chance to drive that car).  It was one of those things between us that was so special.  She might not let me touch her camera, but she always let me drive her car.  If I made a list of reasons to believe she loved me, that would be on the list.  Of course, the reasons not to believe it list would be longer.  But, no matter what the circumstances, as Bruce would say, “people find some reason to believe.”
I started to get in the car, but Laura stayed by the trunk.  “Pop it, will you?” she asked and I obliged.  She pulled out a small cooler, shut the trunk, and climbed on top of it.  “Wanna put on some tunes and have a beer?”
I put the same Giants Stadium bootleg that we had been listening to on the way up to the show back into the cd player and climbed onto the trunk next to Laura.  We had done this a few times after being in the pit.  Post-show tailgating.
We didn’t talk for a while.  We just sat there, soaking up the night and watching the crowd.  Adam and Jen, a couple we had met at the Meadowlands, were walking a few rows over and Laura called to them.  They were about our age and we had hung out with them for the first two Philly shows, but then told them we weren’t coming to this one.  They sat with us and helped us lighten our beer load a bit.  Eventually, we realized that it was just the post-gamers like us in the parking lot because it was past midnight.  Adam and Jen were driving home to New Jersey, and we decided that it was time for us to leave as well.  I realized, as we pulled out of the now nearly deserted parking lot, that this would be our last Philly show on this tour.  It could be the last Philly show for years.  The first time we had talked to each other had been in this very parking lot.  Everything had changed since then.  And I was sure that so much more would change before we would be there again.  But that was ahead of us, and that night, I wasn’t thinking all that much about the past or the future.


RIP to the King of the World, Master of the Universe–the Big Man, Clarence Clemons

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Clarence Clemons died Saturday night.

Which is a sentence that I hoped never to have to write. And to be honest, if there was anyone out there who could defeat death, I’d argue that Clarence would have been that guy.

My younger readers are scratching their heads trying to figure that out right now.

Well kids, gather ‘round. It’s story time.

Yes, Clarence Clemons was that guy who played on the new Lady Gaga album.

But if that’s all you know him for, Gaga herself would be ashamed of you. Because she didn’t pick him randomly to play on her album. She picked him because he was the best of the best. The Big Man. The King of the World. Master of the Universe.

And when the Boss himself introduces you that way, it means it’s true.

I spent Saturday night in a state of shock, listening to old Bruce albums on vinyl and trying (unsuccessfully for the most part) not to cry at the sax solos.

And there are a lot of really great eulogies out there online already, most of which made me cry as well. But I’m not here to make you cry today. That wasn’t Clarence’s goal on stage. He wanted to make us smile, as he said in numerous interviews. So in that vein, I’d like to talk about why Clarence was just so awesome.

I’ve blogged before about how I got into listening to Springsteen and how I started kind of late.  But I think I always had a vague awareness even before I chose to listen to the music that Bruce’s saxophone player was called “the Big Man,” both because my father called him that and because that was how Bruce referenced him in so many of the live versions of songs that provided the background soundtrack of my childhood.

My first real recognition of Clarence’s importance to the music however, came when I had just started listening to Bruce in college. My boyfriend at the time had told me that he’d heard a Bruce song on the radio and thought of me. I was skeptical. While I liked the guy (the boyfriend, I mean—I already LOVED Bruce), his musical awareness was…um…lacking. Which I learned when we were in the car one day and a song came on the radio and my boyfriend exclaimed, “Change the channel! I REALLY hate the Eagles!”

The song was “Sultans of Swing,” by Dire Straits.

So when he told me that he’d heard a Bruce song, I wasn’t sure he was right, and I asked which song it was. He didn’t remember. I asked how he knew it was Bruce then. And he told me that he would “know that saxophone anywhere.”

I later figured out that the song he’d heard was the Detroit Medley, which Bruce didn’t write. But he was right. Clarence’s sax on that was unmistakable.

Clarence didn’t become the stuff of legends to me, however, until I raided my father’s and uncle’s bootleg collections about a year later. I absolutely devoured those old cassette tapes, playing them in the car, one after another, and I would often drive extra laps around the block once I’d reached my destination just to finish whatever song or story was playing.

But while the music was what hooked me, what I loved most about those tapes were the stories. And the very best of the stories always involved Clarence. So rather than me butchering them, I’m going to let Bruce tell them himself here. It was hard to narrow down, but these are my three very favorite Bruce/Clarence stories.

Story starts at about 2:12
“The E Street Shuffle” from the Bottom Line, 8/15/75

Story starts about about 4:45 
“Growin’ Up” at the Agora 8/9/78

Story starts at about 2:40
“Growin’ Up” from the Capital Centre 8/26/84

Yet to truly appreciate the magnificence that was Clarence Clemons, I think you had to see the band live. Granted, I didn’t start going to shows until 2003, but I feel blessed that I got to see Clarence perform in a full twenty E Street Band shows. And while I honestly don’t think there is a way to explain the magic that was a Clarence solo if you didn’t get to experience it live, one of my most special concert memories is of one of those solos.

At the end of the Magic tour, I went to two shows back-to-back nights, Richmond and then Hershey Park. I skipped the first day back at school for teachers to do so, claiming that I was *cough cough* sick (which, as anyone who knows me well knows, means that Bruce is playing somewhere on the east coast). My dad went with me to the second of the two shows and on the drive up, we asked each other, as we always did before a show, what song we most wanted to hear that night. We’d had some pretty awesome luck with that game before, as my dad had said “For You” the night of our first show, which we heard, I’d said “Santa Ana”—with the caveat that I knew it would NEVER happen—the night that he DID first play it in Philadelphia on the Devils and Dust tour, along with a few other winners.

But that night, my dad said “Jungleland.” It was my twentieth Bruce show overall and my fourteenth E Street Band show, yet somehow I had never heard “Jungleland” live. And I remember nodding when my dad suggested that particular song and saying, “Me too.”

So I remember the overwhelming emotion I felt when I heard the opening notes to “Jungleland” that night. That year, 2008, had been incredibly rough for my entire family and finally hearing that song, that one song that my dad and I had hoped to hear for the five years that we had been going to shows together, provided this incredible catharsis. I cried through most of the song and my dad just put his arm around me.  And I remember thinking, as Clarence began his solo, that things really were going to be okay. It was the first time all year that I actually believed that was true.

I know I said I wasn’t going to get all sad there (sorry… I failed), so to close out, here are some videos of how I’d like to remember Clarence.


“Born to Run”


“10th Avenue Freeze Out”

Thank you, Clarence, for all that you’ve given me and the world.

We’ll miss you. But none of us who have seen you play or who have really heard your music will ever forget you or the influence you’ve had on music ever since that change was made up town and the Big Man joined the band.

"If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, you are the music"

Saturday night was about as perfect as they come.


Because for only the third time in my concert-going life, I got to see Bruce play in Asbury Park. And in my world, that is truly as good as it gets.

If you’re not one of my fellow Bruce fanatics, I know that you don’t understand the significance of this. And you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Here she goes, talking about Bruce again.” But hear me out, I’m going to try and explain it.

Wikipedia defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, especially…human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.”

Keeping in mind the one infallible tenet of the universe that Wikipedia is NEVER wrong, I think that music can fall into the category of a religion.

Go with me on this. Picture music as a religion. I mean one of the big religions, not some little weirdo one like that church of body modification (it’s real… bizarre, but real) or a cult like Scientology or Jews for Jesus, but as a real, legitimate religion.

(Note: if you’re easily offended by people mocking religion, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post… And if you ARE easily offended and DO read the rest of this post despite my warning, please don’t post your comments about how I’m a heathen because I’m just going to delete them. Yes, I have that power. Which I suppose makes me the god of this blog. Insert evil laughter here.)

Obviously Bruce is at the center of the particular denomination of musical religion that I practice, but just as Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, I can see the inherent value of other musical messiahs.

So okay, if Bruce is the deity-figure (I’m going to refrain from calling him Jesus—partially because I think that’s going to offend everyone but the Jews (I’m not as worried about offending Muslims because I’m an American Jewish chick… they’re not reading this anyway and if they are, my very existence is already insanely offensive to them) and partially because I’m Jewish and calling him Jesus just gets too confusing), that would make the members of the E Street Band his disciples. If I had better Photoshop skills, I’d do a version of the Last Supper to illustrate this. But my Photoshop skills are, unfortunately, somewhat limited and I don’t feel like wasting that much time. You get the idea.

Then there are the prophets. These are the other musicians who are heavily influenced by Bruce. (And you could probably make an argument that since Bruce was heavily influenced by Elvis, Bob Dylan, and Chuck Berry, among others, they could figure into some Father/Holy Ghost type analogy, but I don’t know enough about Christian theology to really flesh that out.) So in that group would be the Gaslight Anthem, Jesse Malin, Tom Morello, Eddie Vedder, Social Distortion etc. All of them are ABSOLUTELY worth going to see in their own right, but their music/styles contain some elements of the Bruce gospel.

We also have the scholars, who, like biblical scholars, interpret the word of our deity and pass these interpretations on to the masses. Some, like Chris Phillips and Dave Marsh, are established as being the authorities (love them or hate them, the Bruce camp has cemented their position by giving them super exclusive interviews), whereas others learn from these teachings and put their own spin on what they’ve taken from Bruce. You can find these scholars in many places, from BTX to Greasy Lake and everywhere in between. Some are strict and believe that only their interpretation is legitimate, whereas others are more welcoming of new points of view. (Think of the difference between ultra-orthodox Jews and reform Jews—you find the same kind of argument about what makes someone a “real” fan on BTX pretty often.)

I, as someone who has written a book in which the characters meet following Bruce and as someone who blogs about his importance in my life fairly often, fit into the scholar group, although I’m still a novice by most standards. My father was the one who introduced me to Bruce and he was the one who started taking me to shows, and it is a pretty male-dominated scene among the heavy-duty Bruce fans. And in my debut work, Beyond the Palace, I told the story from the point of view of a guy.

Which, of course, makes me Yentl.

(No one but my mother laughed at that, but it amused me. Papa, can you hear me?)

But the best part about travelling to our Jerusalem (Asbury Park) to worship at the holiest of holy sites, isn’t even that Bruce showed up. (Don’t get me wrong, that was absolutely unreal.) No, the best part is the feeling of community among the true Bruce fans at a show. Because I don’t care what people on BTX say makes you a real fan versus a fair-weather fan; when you’re at a show in Asbury Park and the lights have dimmed and there’s even the slightest whisper in the air that Bruce could be there that night, you’re with your family.

That feeling struck me several times Saturday night, well before Bruce took the stage. I had conversations with a whole bunch of different people who had been at the same shows I’d been at, who had the same bootlegs, who loved the same other musicians, and who felt the same things that I felt being there that night. And that sense of community and belonging is the reason so many people go to synagogue or church week after week. It’s to feel a part of something bigger and to be with people who believe in the same things you believe in and have faith in the same things you put your faith in.

No, I don’t literally worship Bruce. I’m actually a fairly observant Jew, and I understand that comparing music to religion is a stretch for those who don’t feel the way that I do. But the reason that I think it’s an apt comparison is that it has given so much to my life and to who I am as a person. And Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre was where I truly felt that I was home. And I can only hope that all of you who read this have a place where you can feel that same sense of acceptance and belonging.

And I REALLY hope that 2011 brings a new tour. Because I’m already eagerly anticipating my next religious experience.

Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey–the REAL Jersey Shore

A couple of times a year, I hop in the car and take the three-and-a-half hour drive to my own personal Mecca.

No, I don’t mean the DSW headquarters or the Stila cosmetics factory (both of which I would LOVE to go to though… road trip anyone?). I mean Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Now I know that when I say any destination on the Jersey Shore is my version of Mecca, you’re immediately picturing steroid-filled, spiky-haired, Ed Hardy-wearing, drunken guidos and their silicone-filled, hair extentioned, whore-y female counterparts. But none of those stereotypes are actually FROM the Jersey Shore. They just migrate there in the summer like really obnoxious birds that you can’t dislodge from your trees no matter how hard you try.

So Saturday night, I took “that drive, cross the river to the Jersey side” to see Jesse Malin perform at the Stone Pony. I’d seen him Wednesday night in the DC area and when I talked to him after, he told me that I should try to make it to the Asbury show. He did tell me that Bruce wasn’t a definite, but that didn’t matter, nor did it matter that in the end, Bruce didn’t show up. Because that’s not why I wanted to go. The truth is that you don’t have to work very hard to convince me to go to a concert (especially when it’s Bruce, the Gaslight Anthem, or Jesse Malin, who are my three favorite live performers), and it takes even less convincing to get me to Asbury Park.

Before you misunderstand me, I feel the need to point out that Asbury Park is still pretty shady. It’s kind of the polar opposite of my other Jersey Shore destination (my uncle’s shore house in Avalon), which is like the Disney version of the Jersey Shore (very clean, very safe, a pain in the ass to get to, and WAY overpriced in every possible way). In fact, if Avalon is Disney World, Asbury Park is Chuck E. Cheese. (Which would make Seaside Heights, where Jersey Shore is filmed the equivalent of the old Wild World Water Park in Prince Georges County, before it became the Six Flags, when it was dirty and disgusting and always had an alarming vomit-to-water ratio in all of the water rides.) It’s gritty, and you’re far more likely to encounter a giant rat than Mickey Mouse (because I don’t care what anyone says, Chuck E. Cheese is a rat).

But to a diehard Springsteen fan, it’s home.

Asbury Park, in fact, despite being a little scary at night (and sometimes during the day), is the ONLY place (other than my uncle’s house), where I can feel like I’m NOT a freak for how much I love Bruce. In Asbury, even on a non-concert day, I’m a lightweight. So part of why I love it is probably because it makes me feel more normal than any place in the DC area ever could.

But that’s not why I go there so often.

And no, it’s not because there’s always the off-chance that Bruce could pop up wherever you are there (which has only happened to me once in the six years that I’ve been going there. I have terrible Bruce-spotting luck. Although he DID stop his car and say hi to me the one time he WAS there at the same time as me—because he CLEARLY loves me too). It’s because everywhere you look, everything you see is straight out of one of his songs.

Granted, it was a little more fun from that perspective back before they started revitalizing the town, but even with many of the major landmarks gone, Asbury Park still holds a special place in the heart of all of the “tramps like us” who were “born to run.”

The funny thing for me is that Asbury Park’s “Glory Days” were long over by the time I was born (nevermind when that was. It was decades after Asbury Park’s heyday, let’s leave it at that). I never got to see the Palace when it was open (although I was there the week before they tore it down, which is when I got the photos that would later become the front and back covers of my first novel, Beyond the Palace).

The Palace, after the back was already demolished, May 2004

By the time I got to the Circuit, the northern end of it had already been closed off by the water plant. Madam Marie was no longer telling fortunes in her shack on the boardwalk (although a year ago, her granddaughter DID do a tarot card reading for me there, which was ridiculously cool, even though I don’t believe in that stuff).

Kids busking outside Madam Marie’s, May 2004

There was no joint underneath the boardwalk where girls could promise to unsnap their jeans (although before the town turned around in the last couple of years, there WAS an abundance of prostitutes who would probably have been willing to act out any Bruce-related fantasy for the right price). And that “giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light” was a poorly paved asphalt lot by the time I got there.

The Casino, May 2004

I described the scene that first greeted me in Asbury Park in a chapter of Beyond the Palace, through the eyes of my two main characters:

Asbury Avenue brought us into the city itself. I had taken over driving after we stopped at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, but Laura told me to pull over as soon as we saw the Palace Amusement complex looming on the horizon, its cracked and peeling green façade rising abruptly out of the flat seaside landscape. Commanded is a little closer to what she actually did. I thought she wanted to get out and walk around, so I looked for a parking lot, but she told me that the side of the road was fine. We had only seen a couple of cars on the road since coming into town, so I obliged. Laura hopped out of the car practically before I brought it to a complete stop. She ran around to the driver’s side and opened my door before I could open it. “I want to drive the circuit,” she said, excitement showing in every curve of her body. The circuit was no longer really a circuit by the time we got there in 2003, as the water purification plant at 8th Avenue effectively closed that end of it, but we had heard Bruce’s stories from concert bootlegs. In the 1970s, four one-way streets formed a sort of hangout/racetrack through town, where girls would “comb their hair in rearview mirrors” and the boys tried “to look so hard.” The Palace was a crumbling landmark from Bruce’s songs, a testament to his city of ruins. But the circuit was where you could still find the Bruce from Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Driving it was something that we knew he had done. And I knew that Laura would want to give me a chance to drive it too, so I had no problem letting her take her turn first.

She pulled the car into drive and took us slowly down Asbury to Ocean Avenue, where we passed the Casino. She had timed her mix almost perfectly. The next song was “Sandy,” which was about the attractions on the circuit and the beach. We made our way past the rotting hulk of the Casino, which had been an arcade with an arm that jutted out onto a pier in better days, but that part had long since washed away. We could see the boardwalk to our right, and the legendary Stone Pony to our left. Past a bizarre, rusted, half-finished high-rise, past Lance and Debbie’s Wonder Bar, which Clarence once owned, past the Howard Johnson’s, orange and space-age looking in its un-maintained 1960s splendor. Convention Hall rose up on our right, by far the nicest building in town, which wasn’t saying much. Facing the end of the circuit, we turned down 7th Avenue to Kingsley Avenue, and again Laura’s mix proved perfect, as the opening line of the next song was about driving down Kingsley and deciding to stop for a drink. Laura looked around in wide-eyed wonder. She drove us down to where we had started and then we switched seats and went back around the same course, this time with me driving. After a full lap, I looped back to park near the Stone Pony so that we could walk around and explore the town.

Laura usually left the top of her car down with the windows up on nice days, and this certainly qualified. Her car had a strong alarm system, and no one could really reach anything with the windows up. But Laura started putting the top up before I could even suggest it. This didn’t look like the kind of town where it was smart to leave anything remotely accessible if you ever wanted to see it again. Not that there was anyone around to steal anything. We got out of the car and I walked immediately around to Laura’s side. It was creepy. We hadn’t seen a living soul yet. It looked like no one had lived there for about twenty years. The only signs of life were a few old, dilapidated cars parked near the Pony.

Laura dug into her purse for quarters to feed the meter and I fished two out of my pockets. Laura inserted one with a dull clink, then peered at it.

“Shit,” she said idly. “Broken.” She looked at me and shrugged. “I’ll move the car.” I looked around. There was a sea of empty spaces and the meters looked older than us. No flashing red lights to show which had expired here. Laura started to climb back into the car, but I stopped her.

“Let’s find a working meter first,” I said. I went to the one next to the one Laura had tried. It was expired. I put a quarter in, but nothing happened. I tried the one next to that, and again, nothing. Laura started to look amused. She tried the one on the other side of the car. Looked at it curiously. Then tried one more.

“They’re all broken!” she exclaimed. “Does that mean we can just park here?” I looked around. Even the asphalt of the parking lot looked older than dirt. Stringy grass sprouted up in large clumps all around and a rainbow of brown and green broken bottles glittered in the sunlight.

“Yeah,” I said finally. “If we get a ticket, I feel like this place needs the money more than we do.” Laura smiled weakly and nodded. I don’t think she had expected it to be quite this bad. We knew it would be fairly rundown, or else Bruce couldn’t have written a song about it that would later be used to describe New York after September 11. But we hadn’t imagined the level of devastation that we actually found there. We didn’t know how dead a place could feel.

I felt disappointed too, but I wanted Laura happy again. “Let’s go exploring.” She nodded again and hooked her camera strap across her body as we set off toward the Palace of “Born to Run” fame. An exceptionally seedy-looking motel stood on the corner of Kingsley and 2nd Avenue. Laura stopped and stared at it. I turned and looked at her while she worked out whatever she was thinking. Finally, a huge smile spread across her face. I turned and looked where she was looking. A battered sign read “The Flamingo Motel.”

“Do you see it?” Laura asked. I looked more carefully. It looked like the sign had fluorescent lights along the looping words once, but if they had been there, they were long gone now. Pink, fluorescent lights, I would assume, to go with the Flamingo part. She watched me expectantly, but I shrugged. I didn’t know what she wanted me to see.

“What if I said ‘Flamingo Lane’?” she asked, hinting. Flamingo Lane? A line from “Jungleland.” Off Born to Run. The two lovers “take a stab at romance” and vanish “down Flamingo Lane.”

“Oh!” I said as I realized what she was getting at. Flamingo Lane wasn’t a street. Disappearing there meant getting a room at this motel. It was one of the many things that both of us loved about Bruce. His songs were poetry. If you didn’t look deeper, Flamingo Lane could be a street somewhere. If you did, the story became a love affair, with the sax solo acting as the un-vocalized verse that represents the culmination of that passion in this little dive motel. But it doesn’t matter that it’s a dump, because to them, it’s beautiful; it’s not a motel anymore, it’s a whole world that they can disappear into.

Laura beamed at me. “That is just the coolest thing ever.” She took my hand and pulled me across the street. “We have to check this out!” But the Flamingo, like just about everything else in town, was closed. Laura’s smile faded quickly.

I did have an ace up my sleeve, even though I hadn’t expected to have to play it that soon. I leaned down to whisper into her ear. “We’re less than a couple hundred feet from where Bruce will probably be tonight.” She smiled again and turned back to face me. She looked at me for just a second too long, her face a little too close to mine. I hesitated. She pulled back, kissed me noisily on the cheek, then turned away to walk down Kingsley toward the Palace. If she had stayed a second longer, would I have had the nerve to kiss her? Would she have let me? Doubtful, but I couldn’t help but wonder. She was halfway down the block before I realized I had better catch up. Maybe she would have let me kiss her. But there were still no guarantees that she would wait for me when anything involving Bruce was at stake.

The Palace, once one of the largest arcades in the country, was hardly more inviting than the Flamingo had been, as it was closed down in 1988. It was hard to believe, but it had gone way downhill since Bruce shot his video for “Tunnel of Love” there. A chain link fence surrounded the building, keeping vandals and teenagers out. There was barely even any graffiti on the peeling, faded paint; almost as if Asbury Park was so deserted that there weren’t even enough people there to vandalize an abandoned building. Instead, only the weather desecrated this once unmistakable landmark of the Jersey shore. Even the words on the street sign at the corner were faded and missing a letter. We walked around the side of the long-since empty building, reading the attractions advertised on the side in reverent silence. Laura stood in the middle of the road to take pictures without even needing to worry about traffic. The only moving car that we saw since arriving in town passed us as we walked down Kingsley toward the lake that separated Asbury Park from Ocean Grove, which was an entirely different universe. Ocean Grove was populated. Booming. Rich. Alive. Yet one block away, Asbury Park was as decimated as if a bomb had been dropped on it. We both turned to look at the car as it passed. It was the first sign of life that we had seen.

I personally thought that would have to be the worst of it. But the Casino had trees growing inside of it. Literally. Trees. The roof was torn off in some storm in the 1980s and never replaced. The carousel, which had once been world-famous, was sold off piece by piece and the space around it turned into a skate park before the entire building was shut down. By the time we got there, it was completely boarded up, and the only windows that weren’t broken were too high to reach with rocks or even BB guns. The remains of the pier hung perilously over the edge of the beach, guarded by a lone “No Trespassing” sign, which I doubted would have been enforced if people who wanted to trespass ever showed up. Nearer to the edge of the pier, only the frame of the roof remained, with big patches of blue sky visible through the broken windows. Plant life was clearly thriving in that end of the building, but the windows were higher there and there wasn’t a chance of getting a peek inside without a tall ladder.

An empty paint bucket stood near some of the lower windows and I turned it over. “What are you doing?” Laura asked. I climbed onto the bucket.

“Seeing if there’s anything inside.” I grabbed the ledge and pulled myself up enough to see inside. She watched me expectantly as I looked in. But there wasn’t anything exciting to report back. I climbed down and shrugged at her. “Do you want to see?”

She nodded and climbed up onto the bucket, but wasn’t quite tall enough to see, so I picked her up. I held her while she snapped a few shots of the inside through the broken window, and when I put her down, we wandered around to the boardwalk side, where an entire panel of windows was missing and the foliage inside was clearly visible.

Turning away from the Casino on the boardwalk, a ramp to our left led up to nowhere. It just ended about ten feet off the ground. I looked from there to the beach and touched Laura’s arm to get her attention. “There are some people, at least,” I said, pointing toward the beach. Laura looked relieved. The beach was pretty deserted, but a handful of people had also played hooky from work (or maybe in a town like this, they didn’t have jobs to skip out of) and were scattered along the shore, enjoying the beautiful day.

Laura had started down the boardwalk and when I looked at her, her jaw dropped open. “Look! It’s really there!” she almost shouted, pointing toward the Convention Center. She was pointing at a tiny white shack, which was barely noticeable, but a serious attraction for a Bruce fan. It was Madame Marie’s Temple of Knowledge. Madame Marie was a fortune teller who supposedly told Bruce that he was going to become famous. Although, according to Bruce, all musicians in Asbury Park received the same fortune, just not always with the same level of accuracy. She was mentioned in “Sandy” as being arrested for telling fortunes better than the police. Her shack, of course, was not open, nor was there any trace of Madame Marie herself, other than the faded lettering on the white walls of the building, which couldn’t have been more than about eight feet by eight feet. But we had once seen a picture of Bruce standing right in front of that spot. Laura traced a finger over the lettering on the side. She looked disappointed. I think she had expected Madame Marie to be sitting inside, waiting to tell our fortunes.

Today, it’s infinitely better. For starters, there’s a working parking system (wait, that’s not actually a better thing for me on a teacher’s salary!). It’s safer, it’s cleaner, there are cute little stores, and it no longer looks like a third-world country by the sea.

And even though the Palace and most of the Casino are now long gone, and Madam Marie has finally gone to a better place, where the cops can’t bust her for telling fortunes better than they do, Asbury Park remains one of the few places that I’ve ever been to where there still IS “magic in the night.” Whether it’s catching a show at the legendary Stone Pony (which I’ve done often enough at this point that some of the bouncers know me—I feel like that’s NOT a good thing when I live three-and-a-half hours away!), spending a summer day down the shore, or even just “driving down Kingsley, figuring [you’ll] get a drink,” it’s a special town. And even if Bruce never DOES show up while you’re there, he doesn’t need to. Because to anyone who’s ever felt a strong connection to his lyrics, just being there provides you with that “moment when the world seems right.”

Which is why I’m going back in a month for the annual Light of Day show. If I find a ticket. (Hint hint, if you’ve got extras!)

Me after Madam Marie’s granddaughter Sabrina read my tarot carts, just before the 2010 Light of Day show.

You’ve gotta fight for your right…to stay at the front of the pit

I am mildly claustrophobic/agoraphobic, and am therefore NOT a big fan of tightly packed crowds. In fact, despite being an inveterate shopaholic, I refuse to set foot in a mall during the month of December for that reason. (Side note: I think it’s a sign of the impending apocalypse that Microsoft Word recognized “shopaholic” as a legitimate, accurately-spelled word. Maybe the Mayans were right. The end is near. Repent now.)

But I love concerts more than I hate crowds, so I brave them pretty frequently to see some of my favorite bands. At Bruce shows, that’s not much of a problem. If I’m in the pit (which I usually am, because once you’ve been in the pit, you never want to be in seats again, even if they’re REALLY good seats), and it gets too crowded, I’ll retreat to the back of the pit, where I’m still super close to the stage, but have room to breathe.

Taken from the pit in DC, 5/18/09

Although to be honest, that’s not much of a problem at Bruce shows, because it’s an older crowd. They may be desperate to get closer to Bruce, but at least they’re not moshing or crowd surfing. Bruce is the only one who crowd surfs at a Bruce show, and I’m not going to object to HIS butt passing over my head.

Taken from the pit during Bruce’s final show at the Spectrum, 10/20/09

At other shows, however, the pit can be scarier than Lindsay Lohan driving after hitting the crack pipe.

I love being in the pit though, so over the years I’ve developed some tricks to try to protect some of my personal space when I’m at the front of the crowd.

First of all, it’s better to be off to the side on the rail than dead center but a few people in. The reason for this is simple: at the rail, you have a certain amount of inviolable personal space that no non-rail position can provide. For a claustrophobe in a crowded situation, that’s worth its weight in gold.

So how do you guarantee a spot on the rail? At a Bruce show, you can’t. He uses a lottery system for the pit, which is great sometimes because it means you don’t have to camp out for a week to be in the front.  I lucked out at the show below (second person back in front of Bruce, right in front of my uncle, who’s wearing the white baseball cap).

Of course, it sucks like a Dyson when someone three numbers after you gets called and you wind up way far in the back.

For other shows, it means getting there early. Now I’m chronically late for everything I do, but I plan to arrive insanely early for concerts when I want to be in the front. Therefore when I’m fifteen minutes late, I’m still earlier than most of the other fans who DIDN’T plan so far in advance.

You also can’t skip the opening acts when you want to be in the front. For me, that’s a bonus though because I love opening bands. Sometimes they’re awful, but I’ve found a lot of new music that I’ve really liked from checking out the opening bands. (Most recently notable: Frank Turner and Fake Problems, both from Gaslight Anthem shows… Check them out, they were awesome!)

Once you have your spot on the rail, TAKE UP AS MUCH ROOM AS YOU CAN. Seriously. Pretend you’re really fat and hoard as much space as you would need if you were six times your own body weight. Pay special attention to hoarding the space behind you. People will fill that space in once the show starts, but the more room you can take up before the show, the better your chances of being able to breathe when it starts.

There are two words I can’t stress enough when you’re in the pit: DEFENSIVE ELBOWS. I learned this trick at crowded bars, and it’s NECESSARY at a concert. If someone is invading your space, keep your elbows out. If you make it uncomfortable enough for them to crowd you, they’ll eventually stop and try to squeeze in somewhere else.

Most people aren’t comfortable in high heels for a whole concert, but I am, and this works to my advantage. Because if someone behind you is crushing you up against the railing (like Saturday night’s Gaslight Anthem show in Charlottesville—true story: I have a massive bruise along my rib cage from getting slammed into the stage. But it was an AWESOME show, so it was well worth the bruised ribs and possible internal bleeding), a stiletto heel to the foot is your only available weapon. And it REALLY works well.

My last trick comes courtesy of my great grandfather, who gave this advice to my grandmother for riding the bus: keep a hatpin handy. Now I don’t know where to get a hatpin in this day and age, but safety pins are super cheap and easy to conceal. If the situation behind you starts to feel like a proctology exam, stick an open safety pin in your back pocket pointing out. No one is going to keep grabbing your ass if they’re getting stabbed every time they do.

So if you’re ever behind me at a concert and decide to rush the stage, be warned. I’m never going to be rude or start moshing, but I’ll fight for my spot in the pit if you make me. And that has nothing to do with being claustrophobic or afraid of crowds.

It’s because guys with guitars are REALLY hot.